In the breeding season, the male, in common with other cyprinids, develops rough tubercles on the head.
The common bream's home range is Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees, as well as the Balkans. It is found as far east as the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Aral Sea.
The bream is usually 30 to 55 centimetres (12 to 22 in) long, though some specimens of 75 centimetres (30 in) have been recorded; it usually weighs 2 to 4 kilograms (4.4 to 8.8 lb).
It has a laterally flattened and high-backed body and a slightly undershot mouth. It is a silvery grey colour, though older fish can be bronze-coloured especially in clear waters. The fins are greyish to black, but never reddish.
The common bream can easily be confused with the silver or white bream (Blicca bjoerkna), in particular at the younger stages (see picture). The most reliable method of distinguishing these species is by counting the scales in a straight line downwards from the first ray of the dorsal fin to the lateral line. Silver bream has fewer than ten rows of scales, common bream has eleven or more. At the adult stage the reddish tint of the pectoral fin of the silver bream is diagnostic. Like other Cyprinidae, common bream can easily hybridise with other species, and hybrids with Roach (Rutilus rutilus) can be very difficult to distinguish from pure-bred bream.
The Bronze Bream generally lives in rivers (especially in the lower reaches) and in nutrient-rich lakes and ponds with muddy bottoms and plenty of algae. It can also be found in brackish sea waters.
The common bream lives in schools near the bottom. At night common bream can feed close to the shore and in clear waters with sandy bottoms feeding pits can be seen during daytime. The fish's protractile mouth helps it dig for chironomid larvae, Tubifex worms, bivalves, and gastropods. The bream eats water plants and plankton as well.
In very turbid waters common bream can occur in large numbers, which may result in a shortage of bottom-living prey such as chironomids. The bream is then forced to live by filter feeding with its gill rakers, Daphnia water fleas being the main prey. As the fish grows, the gill rakers become too far apart to catch small prey and the bream will not then grow bigger than 40 centimetres (16 in). If a common bream is malnourished it can develop a so-called knife back: a sharp edge along its back.
The common bream spawns from April to June, when water temperatures are around 17 °C (63 °F). At this time the males form territories within which the females lay 100,000 to 300,000 eggs on water plants.The fry hatch after three to twelve days and attach themselves to water plants with special adhesive glands, until their yolk is used up.
Because of their slender shape the young fish are often not recognised as bream, but they can be identified by their flat bodies and silvery colour. At this stage the fish are still pelagic, but after a few months they acquire their typical body shape and become bottom-dwellers. By three to four years old the fish are sexually mature.